Did God Do That? Calvinism Is Not the Problem


A few years after college, I met up with a friend who had been in the Bible program with me. He was a natural at connecting with people, and seeing him minister to a room of high school students made me realize a) Why I was so bad at it and b) I really should not go into youth ministry.

THAT was a life saver.

However, there was another side to him that was always a little restless, perhaps unsettled. I can’t quite put my finger on it, and I honestly only noticed it in retrospect when we caught up. By that time he’d found a church that had been really good for him.

The words that came up over and over again in our conversation were “grace” and “sound doctrine.”

Mind you, a Baptist like me found this different because I would talk about preaching the cross and teaching “The Word.” I still get a little twitchy these days when people use “The Word” to describe the Bible, but I’ll spare you my Barthian rabbit trail. Let’s get back to my friend…

I later learned that his church was Calvinist or Reformed.

This surprised me. For him, a church informed by Calvinism brought him tremendous peace of mind—possibly because he really understood the saving and preserving grace of God in his life for the first time. The absence of his restlessness was jarring. For me, everything that troubled me about Christianity in seminary always seemed to come from the books by the Calvinists.

Go figure.

I’ve run into this over and over again: Some folks find true comfort in the teachings on God’s grace that you’ll find among Calvinists. For a guy like me who finds way more peace in the Arminian end of things, it’s good to be reminded that even if I believe that we need to make a choice, the power and the credit and everything else really does come from God.

As I’ve personally backed away from Calvinism and seen its impact on my life, I don’t think Calvinism is necessarily the problem. Mind you, a doctrine such as predestination can be a real brain bender. That we aren’t quite sure how it works should be a given. That we sometimes misunderstand the mysterious workings of God is a no brainer.

Calvinism has some complex doctrines that are easy to misapply to our lives. Heck, I witnessed Reformed theologians arguing about how the central teachings of their theological school play out in every day life.

Whichever theological camp feels right to you, I hope you can join me in the coming weeks as I look at the sovereignty of God and the way it plays out in everyday life. This is something for all of us to consider. For many, like myself, we have struggled to understand what exactly to do with Calvinism and how to apply it to our lives.

Calvinism is not the problem here. For many, it has been a source of hope and healing. In my own case, it has left me confused about the ways God interacts with us and the decisions we make.

However, you don’t have to mingle with Calvinism in order to be confused about the role of God in our lives. In the coming days I may discuss the impact of Calvinism on my way of thinking, but I hope I never make it sound like I’m “against” Calvinism. The mysterious role of God in our lives is something for all of us to ponder and pray about.

Perhaps God did predestine all of us to be a little confused.

8 thoughts on “Did God Do That? Calvinism Is Not the Problem

  1. Lisa notes

    For what it’s worth, I hope you’ll go down the Barthian rabbit trail one day on The Word and Bible. Would love to hear your thoughts to help me clarify my own.

    In the meantime, looking forward to this series, too.

  2. Christie

    “Perhaps God did predestine all of us to be a little confused.”
    Yes! I often consider that God could have clarified everything for us. He could have answered every question he knew we’d ask. I have to believe that without some uncertainty, some darkness I would never be moved to seek God. I may go out seeking answers, but, instead, I find God himself.

  3. Jen

    Well, I’m a born and raised Calvinist, though I didn’t know it until I was long married. And now, I don’t really think that much about it. Truth is, If I did, I’d probably not align myself with any DOCTRINE, per se. And I do think it is important to know what we believe and why, in the end, if I’m living faithfully, that’s really the most important. Still, theology can really mess with a gal. And there are times when I think I’m just not smart enough.

    I’m rambling, but the point is, I like wrestling w this stuff, and I look forward to this series. Thanks, Ed.

  4. Kristin T. (@kt_writes)

    You probably knew that this non-reformed Calvin College alumna couldn’t stay away from this post! Taking religion classes at Calvin after being raised United Methodist was definitely mind-bending, to say the least. But I have to agree with your take on your friend—that “he really understood the saving and preserving grace of God in his life for the first time.” That’s something I have carried with me since my time at Calvin and in Christian Reformed churches, even if I left some of the other typically reformed ways of understanding God behind. We all have a lot to learn from each other, which is pretty exciting! Looking forward to your next posts!

  5. Jessica

    It seems to me that the main reason that Calvinism brings some people “peace” is because it removes all burden and responsibility, in it’s own way.

  6. Melinda Viergever Inman

    A great opener! I felt a little trepidation when I read yesterday’s post. I am a believer who has found great comfort in the biblical ideas of election, God’s unmerited grace, predestination, and God’s ability to hold onto me, even when I let go of him. To know that God chose me through no merit of my own and drew me to himself has freed hard-working, over-achiever me from thinking I must and can in any way earn or merit God’s favor. It’s a free gift, and that is a relief! That is love beyond my comprehension!

    I didn’t understand that until I examined those difficult concepts. Yes, you would probably label me a Calvinist, though I waffle a bit on at least one of those five points.

    I wondered what you had in mind for this series, and I hoped it would be as uplifting as your posts usually are. How you would do that while tackling Calvinism, I had no idea! Today’s blog put me at ease. There are way too many online conversations where Arminians and Calvinists are hurling biblical texts at one another. Thank you for starting as you did.

  7. John Nunnikhoven

    I am convinced that in that Day when I am called before the Judgment Seat, He will tell me that it was a test, He told me to love my brother and I failed. So no matter where we come down on this topic in this discussion, let us remember that we will have to answer for our answers.

    John, the Reformed Arminian and fence straddler.

  8. Paul VanderKlay

    I continue to stumble over the nomenclature thing. I recommend Richard Muller’s talk “Was Calvin a Calvinist” that can be found here: http://pilgrimagetogeneva.com/2012/03/01/was-calvin-a-calvinist-dr-richard-muller/

    Richard Muller teaches at Calvin Seminary, my alma mater. The lecture does nicely to illustrate the pitfalls of the term “Calvinism”.

    I do appreciate, however, that the term itself is linkbait. :)

    Being a third generation minister in the Christian Reformed Church I tend to bristle at the easy identification of the term with a sort of angry, dark determinism that embraces the label. Although I know a number of persons that might fit that description fortunately my practical experience within the CRC has not fit the stereotype.

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